Southwest Public Libraries will seek new operating levy this November

By Dedra Cordle

Staff Writer

The Southwest Public Libraries (SPL) will ask voters to approve a new operating levy this November.

A resolution of necessity for the levy was passed by the South-Western City School Board of Education at its regular meeting on June 26.

The 0.75-mill operating levy will run for a term of 10 years. According to the county auditor, it will generate $3.65 million annually for the library if approved by voters on Nov. 5. Homeowners will pay $26 per year for every $100,000 of appraised property value.

Voters last approved a 10-year, 1-mill renewal levy in 2020. It generates $2.5 million annually for the library and costs homeowners $31 per year for every $100,000 of appraised property value.

SPL Director Meredith Wickham said the additional operating levy is needed to offset state funding cuts to public libraries. The library receives a majority of its funding, 62 percent, from the state’s public library fund. The rest comes from the funds generated from the renewal levy, 35 percent, and other sources such as donations, fines, fees, and earned interest on investment accounts.

According to information provided by Wickham, the state’s public library fund has underperformed projections. Compared to the same time last year, SPL has lost more than $169,000 in funding from the state, a sum that would cover most of the salaries of the currently open positions through the end of the year.

The Ohio Department of Taxation recently issued its final estimates for the public library fund’s distributions for the calendar year 2024. It currently estimates that public libraries will receive nearly $30 million less than what was distributed by the state the previous year.

“Given the continual downward trajectory for the public library fund, and with no expectation for that to change in 2025, any levy funds would be used to try to maintain operations as close to normal for as long as possible,” said Wickham.

The director said the library has been watching this downward trend for the past year and have taken steps to mitigate some of the financial impact due to the reduction in state funding.

In August of 2023, Wickham instituted a hiring freeze with approval from the library’s board of trustees. She also asked all departments to cut their budgets by 10 percent.

With the hiring freeze still in place, the library announced it was reducing hours this summer due to a staffing shortage. As of June 1, the hours for the library are Monday through Thursday: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday and Saturday: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The library is now closed on Sundays.

The reduction of its hours this summer will run through Aug. 31. The board of trustees are expected to revisit the library’s hours of operation at its meeting next month.

The director said because the library depends so heavily on state funding, with or without an additional levy, the library system cannot promise any particular outcome.

“With all of my heart, I wish I could promise, as director, that we would be adding exciting new services, buying extra books and e-books, and expanding programs for the community,” said Wickham. “But that’s not a promise I can make. Even if the levy passes, about half of Southwest Public Library’s revenue would still be coming from the state via the (public library fund), and that revenue is unpredictable at this time.”

Wickham added that even if the new operating levy does not pass, the library will continue to operate in “a fiscally responsible way” while delivering the best services possible.

SPL is the second largest library system in the county. It serves more than 147,000 patrons in the southwestern portion of the county.

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